Updated: Aug 21
On Friday 5th August 2022 Team Camino set off to 'fast-pack' the 112 KM of the Augustine Camino
This blog serves to share some details of this incredible British trail route so that you might consider doing it as well. As we are also taking part in the Montane Spine event this was a practice run for carrying and using some kit - hopefully we can double up in this blog and share some useful info on the growing sport of fast-packing and what to do...probably what 'not to do'.
This route is also listed on the Fastest Known Time website which is a wonderful resource to discover more about this trail and hundreds of other trails where you live
We are 'Camino Ultra' - so named because we always loved the Camino spirit - the legacy of the trail routes in (mostly) Spain/Portugal/France where modern day walkers follow the same routes of some of the pilgrims. These routes were formed in Roman trade times but became more 'trodden' throughout the Middle Ages.
Perhaps the most well-known Camino is the Camino de Santiago - a 500 mile passage-way starting at St Jean Pied de Port and through four of Spain's 15 regions, ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.
We had researched this and many epic routes throughout Europe and we discovered the only known Camino in the UK - Augustine Camino. The route itself has been meticulously pieced together by two enthusiastic walkers Paula and Andrew Kelly. As you can see in the picture above there are Augustine Camino stickers placed on most of the key junctions of this trail - it never ceased to amaze us just how many of these stickers there are (how grateful we were that they hadn't been removed - we thought this might be a sign that very few people had done the route!)
The Start - Rochester Cathedral.
After a fast train from Stratford Int. to Rochester it's a short walk to the cathedral. We went inside and met two amazing ladies who helped us get our Augustine 'stamp book' Yes the epic thing about Camino's are all the churches and locations on route that have their own unique stamp to prove that you visited/stayed there. The rules of Augustine were that you needed to complete 'at least 100km' and you had to collect ' at least seven stamps'. We were off the scale excited by this prospect. We mentioned that we were hoping to get to Ramsgate in about 16 hours and we got some kind and disbelieving looks. We enquired whether they knew of anyone else who had run the route 'in one go to Ramsgate' and they said 'No - but someone did walk from Leicester to Rome and sent them a postcode a few months later when they got there'!
To give Augustine Camino some context (i.e. what you read in your amazing new stamp book!) it is typically done in 7 days. Each section of the book helps you navigate from the start to the finish of each day and importantly it gives you insight into where to get drink + food (you guessed it - mostly British pubs)
We set off at approx 14:30pm - heading out of Rochester along the gorgeous sea inlet - into land and towards the first of our forays with the North Downs Way.
Fast-packing - the challenge:
Like with any 'long distance' run/walk - you need to get into the flow of what you are about to do. We were fast-packing - this means that we were carrying (well definitely in our opinion!) really heavy back-packs. Different opinions were shared about how heavy they were but we suspect somewhere around 5KG - Paula's weighed much more! So what were in the bags. Most importantly there was a stove + gas + matches + mugs + Exhale Coffee. After that there was the back-up of sleeping gear (inflatable matt + bivvy + warm gear) and some spares (socks + tops). Perhaps less necessary were swim gear for the sea at Ramsgate. We carried over 1 KG of nutrition all kindly supplied by the legends at KOMFUEL
Nutrition was split into an assortment of gels + plenty of electrolyte powders. Over the years we constantly have Chia Charge bars and Precision Hydration as our go-to. We sensibly carried a couple of packs of salt tablets due to the heat. We carried water soft flasks and a 2L water carrier (which leaked on the train and was fixed by some 'foot glue' - highly recommend foot glue for solve-all ultra issues in future!!!!
Section Two - or Day Two or Three
Lots of things made us delirious on this adventure - obviously things that were probably not that funny unless you were many hours into a fast-pack - with a stamp book telling you that you were somewhere between Day 2/3 and yet you were about five hours in. What we were learning (to our horror) was that Kent villages and all the churches with those iconic stamps were 'SHUT".
We managed to get one church stamp (and that was only because the lady of the village was late in coming to lock it) and we were beginning to get this creepy feeling that our water shortage was going to become a big issue.
None of that seemed a problem when we prepared ourselves for sunset. Boy-o-boy Kent did not disappoint. With views over the estuary (maybe Isle of Sheppey) + the world we were treated to something pretty special
After mucking about for quite a while pretending to be Jerry Sun and creating epic IG reels we got the head-torches on and set off to discover more 'shut churches'.
Qu: How long can you survive without water (or can you drink from cattle troughs/puddles)?
One of the unexpected features of this glorious Augustine Camino route was just how often you come across the glory (and overgrown glory) of the rich Kent fruit giving countryside. We (hacked - literally) through Corn fields + orchards + fruit fields with Apples/raspberries/cherries and more - such beautiful sights and a real gem of this part of the world. That said those bramble bushes sure do hurt. We remember Julien Cazorla telling us about his adventures on the Vanguard Way and this felt pretty similar - it would be wrong of us not to share that some of the path feels like it is unpassable - like many trails in the UK it really does impact depending on the time of year you do it - August turned out to be awesome for the weather but must be peak season for growth.
Night-Time + Bivvy time with the Badgers
Hitting unknown trails at night is wild and can be the thing that elevates an adventure - as long as you have something to drink....
Getting slightly desperate and David annoyingly singing various versions of Coca-Cola adverts we entered into another small village. All seemed shut....until we peered into the George Inn Newnham
The pub was shut but we told them about our travails and (again not really thinking we were sane) they were more than happy to fill our many water vessels and be educated as to what Tailwind was and why so much powder was now all over their tables. As we were leaving (our divine saviours) Claire and Dave said 'WOULD YOU LIKE A FIZZY DRINK" - OMG the angels were singing from above - a Coca Cola was poured and it tasted SO DELICIOUS x We are truly grateful to the kind words and fizzy gifts that we received from you xx
That is all you really need in life - someone to fill up your bottle - with that we were ready to take on the night - take on the world - take on the badgers x
More night time grave yards adventures took place - the speaker came out and Jimi Hendrix drifted into the Kent night air. We particularly loved sitting under the 'Beheading of St John the Baptist' sign and taking some beautiful mindful time-out xx
To Sleep or not to Sleep that is sort of a question:
Again to give you some context - we were thinking/dreaming of hitting Ramsgate early morning - having a sea swim - chowing down on the most incredible English breakfast and hot-footing it back to London. We also had the luxury of not being that bothered if we found ourselves getting to Ramsgate late afternoon. What we weren't sure of was whether we wanted or needed or could get any sleep.
With renewed energy from our water supplies (and the fifth Chia Charge providing our night time meal) we decided that it would be #fun to use all the sleep gear.
We found a gorgeous orchard and a spot nestled behind some trees and we began blowing up the sleeping matts and preparing ourselves to be ravaged by wild badgers (the ones we had been hearing for hours in the bushes but not actually spotted) We set our alarms for approx 1 hour and we drifted off into....land of no-sleep - just sort of fidgeting really - amazed at how cold we had become so soon after sweating on the night trails.
Still looking for Holy Water:
By the time that we restarted the route we were only fixated on 'cups of tea'. We made it into Canterbury - a city that is knee deep in history and Augustine folk-lore....and it was all shut...behind high walls.....with nothing to lift our spirits.
So we trudged (not sure what real trudging looks like but pretty sure that those heavy packs which we were now carving ways into our poor skins we were indeed trudging) on to the next oasis - the village of LittleBourne. We know exactly what you are thinking - Did you not just google where the 24 hour garage was......Well we did and it said that there was one about 13 minutes back from where we had just been and there was one ahead of us in LittleBourne that would be opening at 07:00am - so went for that.
When we arrive at the shop we found that the grill to the front door was half-open...YES someone was in....'We open at 07:30am'......NO NO NO - we are Pilgrims from the Ancient land of London and we are parched within an inch of our lives ...PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let us in so we can get a Ginster pasty...'No sorry but there is a water tap around the back of the building'
So the pleasure and pain continued - we refilled all our vessels with Precision + Mountain Fuel and we guzzled more and we washed our faces and we cleaned ourselves up and we begrudgingly left this store and it's google mis-leading opening hours and headed off for the Holy Grail of English Tea.
Many life-changing things occur on these endurance adventures (you just can't remember them two days later) - Dark moments come - great friends help each other through them. Dreams are shared and new ones are born. The sun that had set the day before was now peaking it's life-affirming glow our way. The skin began to warm - layers were shed - lips began to get red and scorched.
Just when there felt like no hope (ok that is a massive over exaggeration) we saw the Acropolis - The Mount on the Summon - well a Burger van....that had TEA (and twister lollies for Paula). What a beautiful cup of tea....
The End is...not quite coming soon enough....
As with all epic routes you find your true sense when you battle those last few miles. It all feels so close and yet....Our planned early finish time was now early afternoon.....we dreamt of a sea-swim finish....and the tide was miles out...We took a detour to get a final Snickers Bar and more fizzy drinks so that we could slow walk along the stunning English Coastal Path from CliffsEnd into our favourite new place - RAMSGATE.
After all those hours of bramble paths, hard lumpy mud/rock fields and sun-drenched wheat fields we were finally making our way to the end of the route - St Augustine's.
What about our stamp book.....
Well it has a stamp from the beginning (one in the middle) and thankfully one from St Augustine's. The chaps at the church didn't really know too much about the route but were glad we were ok.
Summary: We finished the 112Km in 22 hours. We loved every second. Augustine Camino lived up to all our dreams and more. Plans to create a Camino 'Camino' have begun x
Do let us know if you have any questions - if you are planning to do this route or a similar route. If you are new to trails then please do check out our Greenways project which aims to showcase short trails in cities and the best (in our opinion) for you to learn all the necessary skills to take on multi-day adventures xx
Things we learnt:
Water is the source of life - not knowing where you can get some resupplies is a big issue. This route needs careful planning and a decision to probably carry more than is ideal
The Augustine Camino is a gorgeous route - sensationally #stickered by Paula/Andrew but you still need to be reasonably good at navigation as you are likely to need to circumnavigate some wild fields
As with all long adventures it is a balancing act with what you carry - how much you can carry - what you feel is necessary and what is a luxury. Obviously for us the stereo was necessary and the sleeping stuff just a folly!!!
On reflection Augustine Camino is best started when Rochester Cathedral opens - so you get on the trail and have the longest period of 'opening times' for the pubs (shops at Aylseford)
This entire journey also followed the mantra of our friends from Trash Free Trails and their PurposefulAdventure project. As with all Camino events we took it upon ourselves to spend some time clearing some of the worst parts of the trail (usually the ones nearest to towns/cities of some pretty ugly plastic trash. Slightly heart-breaking at times especially as there was quite a few incidents where entire truckloads of waste had been dumped in beauty spots. Getting out into nature and moving is central to health and seeing filthy trails can lead runners to think that the routes are seldom used and therefore less safe. Anything we can do to protect the trails that we love we will xx